Back when I was first struggling with my feelings for men, I wanted to find a friend who, to paraphrase the great George Eliot, could “be all to me.” As I opened up a little to gay classmates in college, some dismissed my notion of an enduring romantic relationship as an “idealized fantasy.” Others called it a “media image.” They told me that sex was great and I should just come out and have fun.
In the 1980s, most gay people (or so it then seemed to me) didn’t talk about relationships. Many activists saw the notion of a monogamous gay couple as a strained imitation of a patriarchal pattern. Gays were going to break free of societal constraints on sexual expression. Everyone seemed to agree with AndrÃ© Gide‘s statement: “Families, I hate you.” I couldn’t belong to this world. I stayed “in the closet.”
It wasn’t just the gay culture that which frowned upon couples. Few social (or political) institutions recognized our unions.
And this barely two decades ago.
When we look at Connecticut’s recognition of same-sex civil unions in this context, we see how huge it is. Yes, many municipalities, universities and private employers, including 200 Fortune 500 companies, offer domestic partnership benefits. Yes, many religious denominations celebrate gay unions, with Reform Judaism recognizing gay marriage.
But, until yesterday, no elected state legislature, without having been forced by the courts, passed a bill recognizing same-sex civil unions. When the state’s democratically elected Republican governor (albeit elected Lieutenant Governor, but who assumed her current position in accordance with the state Constitution when her predecessor resigned) signed the legislation, the bill became law. Now, the whole nation is watching.
Alas, that so many gay organizations have focused on getting gay marriage through the courts, even as an overwhelmingly majority of Americans oppose calling same-sex unions marriage. They thus don’t fully recognize the significance of an elected legislature recognizing gay couples. As of this writing, there is nothing on the web-site or HRC or NGLTF to acknowledge what happened yesterday in Connecticut.
To be sure, California has already recognized domestic partnerships, giving same-sex couples some of the same benefits of marriage. Yet, the Connecticut legislation is far more significant. Despite being the largest state (in terms of population), California has one of the smallest legislatures, just 80 representatives in our state house. Our representatives respond better to special interests than they do to their own constituents. And the districts are so gerrymandered that not a single California legislator (including Members of Congress) lost his (or her) bid for reelection last fall.
Connecticut, however, a state with just 3,461,000 people has nearly twice as many representatives in its state house (151) as does California, a state with ten times its population. Given the geographic compactness of the state, many representatives likely return home every night after a legislative session in Hartford. With small districts, these representatives are closer to their constituents. They join the same civic and community associations, send their kids to the same schools, attend the same sporting events, eat at the same restaurants and work in the same industries. They have to deal with their constituents on a regular basis. Our legislators in the Golden State spend the better part of their time in Sacramento, far removed from the daily lives of their constituents.
As the issue of civil unions has become so controversial, surely, state representatives and senators talked about the legislation with their constituents. Perhaps, that is one reason the legislature included the (in my mind) gratuitous provision defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. They may have learned, as The Hartford Courantreported, that many who favor same-sex civil unions, oppose calling such unions marriage.
While citizens of the various states and their elected legislatures continue to pass bills (and constitutional amendments) defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, the elected legislature in Connecticut also voted to so define marriage, but, at the same time, recognized civil unions. All eyes are now on Connecticut. Surely, social conservatives will mobilize to defeat those legislators, Republican as well as Democrat, who voted for this bill in next fall’s elections. My guess is that while some will be defeated, most will survive.
As the majority of those who voted for Connecticut’s new law win reelection, state legislators across the country will take note and likely follow suit. Those who favor gay marriage will likely not be satisfied with this solution. But, given the strong opposition to gay marriage across the country, I think Connecticut has reached a compromise that many state legislatures, particularly in the Northeast, the Great Lakes region and on the West Coast, will find acceptable. And not just in “blue” states.
Twenty years ago, few, even in the gay community, recognized gay couples as a social unit. Nor did many more “mainstream” institutions, whether commercial, civic, educational, religious or governmental. Today, a growing number of commercial enterprises offer benefits to the partners of their employees while other institutions welcome same-sex schweeties (i.e., significant others) to meetings, services and social events.
And now, a state, not forced by a court and with an elected legislature close to the people, has recognized gay unions. This is huge. Let me repeat, this is huge. The young man — and young woman — or the teen struggling with his tender feelings for members of his own sex, longing for an intimate same-sex relationship, more readily sees same-sex unions as commonplace. It’s going to be a lot easier for that individual to accept his difference than it was for me — and others of my generation. And it’s going to be a lot easier for all gay people to live more openly, together with the ones we love.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
WELCOME INSTAPUNDIT READERS!!
UPDATE (04-21-05; 9:35 AM PST, 12:35 PM GayPatriot Blogtime): HRC has now chimed in, but fails to note that Governor Jodi Rell is a Republican nor that legislators passed this bill without being forced to by the courts.
And this morning, I did do something I don’t do all that often nowadays; I actually opened my “LA TIMES.” This once august paper all but hid its coverage of this significant decision in the “In Brief” column on p. A13.
“THE NEW YORK TIMES” covered the topic in its New York Region section. Like the “LA TIMES” (but unlike HRC) it did note Governor Rell’s party affiliation. This good woman commented, “I think that it certainly bodes well for Connecticut that we didn’t have to be ordered to do this.”
Yes, it does.